Fieldcrest's Jaxon Cusac-McKay (No. 23) stretches for extra yards during a game last season. Cusac-McKay and the Knights will face two new non-conference opponents this fall.
Fieldcrest's Jaxon Cusac-McKay (No. 23) stretches for extra yards during a game last season. Cusac-McKay and the Knights will face two new non-conference opponents this fall. — Scott Anderson

There is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the return to school and high school sports in the fall because of COVID-19.

But now there is certainty of who area football teams will play if the season goes on as planned.

“I’m happy to see a nine-game schedule,” first-year Hall coach Nick Guerrini said. “With different ideas being thrown around, I anticipated a potentially shortened season. It’s a tough schedule, but expected.”

The IHSA released the schedule for every team in the state Monday.

Here are some takeaways from Illinois Valley area schedules.

TOUGH START

Guerrini has a tough task in his first game as head coach after taking over for Randy Tieman.

The Red Devils, who went 7-4 and reached the second round of the Class 3A playoffs last season, travel to defending Class 2A Newman at 7 p.m. Aug. 29.

“Newman is always a contender and a tough first game, but we are going to prepare ourselves the best we can and have our guys ready to play.”

NEW NON-CONFERENCE FOES
FOR FIELDCREST

After a run to the Class 2A semifinals last fall, Fieldcrest has some change this season with a new head coach in Mike Freeman along with a pair of new non-conference opponents.

The Knights, who went 12-1 last year, open the season at Dwight (3-6 in 2019) at 7 p.m. Aug. 28 and will play host to West Hancock (2-7) at 2 p.m. Sept. 26.

GAMES TO WATCH

One of the most anticipated games this fall will be Newman at Princeton (11-2 in 2019), which advanced to the Class 3A semifinals last season, on Sept. 4.

Last fall, the Tigers led the Comets 21-10 at halftime only to lose 25-21 for their only loss of the regular season.

“Obviously, we’re going to get tested right off the bat,” Princeton coach Ryan Pearson said. “Fulton is going to be a pretty solid football team. They return quite a few starters. We have to go to their place. I think that’s certainly a daunting task to open the season. It doesn’t get any easier from there going right into the defending 2A state champs.

“It’s like a broken record, but every year teams that can come out of the [Three Rivers Conference] and be successful, I really think have an opportunity to do something special in the playoffs because year in and year out they’re going to be pretty battle tested.”

Fieldcrest snapped Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s 31-game winning streak last fall. The Knights and Falcons meet again Sept. 18.

Of course, there’s also the always highly anticipated rivalry games – Ottawa at La Salle-Peru (Oct. 2), Hall at St. Bede (Sept. 25) and Princeton at Hall (Oct. 2).

EIGHT-MAN FOOTBALL EXPANDING

After the River Valley co-op dissolved before last season, Henry-Senachwine and Lowpoint-Washburn teamed up for a new eight-man co-op.

In its first season in eight man, the Wildcats had a seven-game schedule that featured three games against Bunker Hill and a pair of games against Lake Forest Academy.

Things are much different for Lowpoint-Washburn/Henry-Senachwine this fall as eight-man football has expanded from 15 teams to 29.

With more potential opponents available, the Wildcats have an entirely new schedule of nine games with nine different opponents.

Also this season, Lowpoint-Washburn/Henry-Senachwine also will play four home games after hosting just one in 2019.

SIMILAR SLATE

Unlike Fieldcrest and Lowpoint-Washburn/Henry-Senachwine, every other area football team will play the same nine opponents in 2020 as they did last fall.

L-P (5-5 in 2019), which ended a 10-year playoff drought last season, once again will open the season against Morton.

This year, the game is at Morton at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28.

The rest of the Cavaliers’ schedule also is the same but with opposite sites.

“The first game against Morton is always a tough match to start off the season,” L-P coach Jose Medina said. “We played them close last year, but it just didn’t fall our way. But I we get the right guys in the right position with the right mentality, I think we can be successful in that first game.”

St. Bede (1-8 in 2019), Princeton (11-2), Bureau Valley (0-9) and Amboy-LaMoille (2-7) all have the same schedule with the same order at opposite sites with the exception being that the Bruins once again will travel to Princeton.

Mendota (1-8) will play the same teams at opposite sites but in a different order.

The Trojans open at Oregon after playing the Hawks at home in Week 9 last fall. Every other opponent is bumped down a week with last year’s Week 1 opponent North Boone in Week 2, last year’s Week 2 opponent Winnebago in Week 3 and so on.